Pastoral Transition

Each spring, many United Methodist clergy and their families prepare to move to a new ministry setting. Congregations likewise prepare to say goodbye and get ready to receive a new pastor.  Much prayer is needed for all involved.

In the United Methodist Church, all clergy are appointed to their places of ministry by the Bishop for one year (July 1-June 30). The majority are reappointed to the same church multiple times. A variety of factors are considered in making the appointment: vacancies created by retirements; the need for particular gifts in a particular ministry setting; requests for a change made by the pastor or congregation; or the need to move a pastor from the current setting. Read more about the appointment-making process.

Pastoral change can be exciting and terrifying for both clergy and congregations. The way pastors, their families, and congregations respond to this time of change can greatly impact lives and ministries.

It is important that pastors give adequate thought to best practices for leaving and beginning. Congregations too should examine best practices for saying goodbye and welcoming a new pastor.

Resources are available from a variety of sources to help during times of transition.

The Lewis Center for Church Leadership offers: 

An article on Duke Divinity School's Faith and Leadership website, Making Transitions,offers this: 

"..changing pastors is a complex process that’s more involved than just changing the name on the office door. Congregations can learn much from other organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, about leadership changes.

“It really and truly is an arc of events that begins with a decision to leave or someone else’s decision to effect a leadership change and it doesn’t end until the successor completes at least one full budget cycle,” said Don Tebbe, executive vice president of Transition Guides, Inc., a consultant firm that advises nonprofit organizations on leadership transitions.

For the departing pastor, the central task is to leave well and prepare the way for a successor. John the Baptist often is cited as a model.

“His total life in ministry was preparing the way for another, even to the point where he tells his disciples to ‘Quit following me and follow him,’” said the Rev. Kenneth Lambert, former coordinator for interim ministry training at the United Methodist-affiliated Intentional Growth Center in Lake Junaluska, N.C. “That is literally what the departing pastor has to say: ‘Turn me loose and follow him.’ But not many of us are humble enough to do that.”